1 October 2011

Zimbabwe: ZANU-PF Chefs Exploiting Farm Workers

JAMAYA Muduvuri, a former Zanu PF senator, won the hearts of Chegutu's Twyford Farm workers when for some time he continued to pay them handsomely after taking over the property from a white commercial farmer in 2009.

Some 28 lucky workers who survived a retrenchment exercise developed a soft spot for Muduvuri as he paid them well and supplied them with foodstuffs.

"You would naturally feel lucky to survive the chop which cost some 170 employees their jobs, but that lasted for just a few months," one employee said last week.

"As it is right now, we are yet to get our wages for March, April and May. He paid half wages to each employee in June, July and August. We are now suffering like all those who lost their jobs because we have never handled the US$55 minimum wage. He is paying US$45 when he says he has paid the full wage and US$28 when paying half."

Muduvuri took over the farm from Catherine Jouineau-Meredith, a French citizen.

The farm, which was one of the most productive in the area, was supposed to be protected by a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.

Trade unionists have indicated that there are many high-ranking Zanu PF officials who have failed their inherited farm workers like Muduvuri, with information that some have never paid any wages since the economy was dollarised. "Some have never paid and others have only paid for an average of two months since dollarisation," Edward Dzeka of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz) said.

Dzeka, who is Gapwuz organising secretary for Kadoma, Chegutu, Selous and Mhondoro said most people who took over farms in the areas are Zanu PF bigwigs and only a few were paying their employees as expected.

"Many are paying below the minimum wage of US$55 and lay off workers without following due procedures," he said.

"When we engage them on these issues, they say we are MDC activists."

At one citrus farm owned by a senator, workers said they were earning US$40 per month and although they receive the wages every month, they usually come on the 9th of the following month.

"She said she does not consider us as her workers but casual employees, including some of us who used to be permanent employees at this farm," one worker said. "So she said, each of us earns US$2 per day. The problem here is that the oranges are not doing well because of lack of chemicals and water."

At another farm owned by a Zanu PF politburo member, workers said the minimum wage was pegged at US$32. "But the biggest problem here is the acrimony between those who were sacked and those who are working as those who are still employed sometimes harass those who lost their jobs, ordering them out of the compound," one employee said.

"A lot of people are surviving on piece jobs whereby they earn as little as US$1 per day while others are paid for spying for the managers."

While some farm owners were unreachable, Muduvuri disputed the claims saying he was paying up as expected.

"I have 30 workers and the lowest paid earns US$85 while my drivers earn US$100 and the farm managers as much as US$600," he said.

"Come on the ground and ask any employee if they are not being paid and they will tell you that I do not owe any of them any money. I give each employee a bucket of mealie-meal and other basic foodstuffs every month and I also assist them with funeral costs if need be."

Labour and Social Services minister Paurina Mpariwa yesterday said she could not comment on the matter as she was at the airport preparing to leave the country.

Farm workers, whose livelihoods were destroyed by the land reform programme, have often been victims for their alleged links to the Movement for Democratic Change.

A report prepared by the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe in 2003, said prior to the land reform programme, an estimated 320 000 to

350 000 people were employed by about 4 500 commercial farmers.

Their dependants numbered between 1,8 million and two million, nearly 2% of the country's population.

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